Anhinga Trail: Fish and the Cold

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) with dead Walking Catfish - Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) with dead Walking Catfish - Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

If you have seen the weather in the last few weeks, you know that Florida had one crazy cold snap.  We saw record breaking lows, extended periods below freezing, and I even heard of a few bits of snow!  All this was fairly bad.  It made my wife and I change our plans.  It has possibly devastated the citrus industry.  Driving around Homestead and Florida City, I see a lot of dead banana trees and entire fields of dead squash plants.  However, all this cold did benefit one thing here in the Everglades: native wildlife…

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) feeding on dead fish - Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) feeding on dead fish - Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

One of the biggest threats to the Everglades ecosystem is the existence of exotic species.  They cover all ranges of life from plants to fish to reptiles to birds.  These exotic species, often from more tropical regions such as Central and South America, have had major impact on many of our native species.  Burmese Pythons eat just about anything including alligators.  Cichlids from Africa out compete our native fish but native birds struggle to eat them.  Talapia eat all the underwater vegetation leaving the bottoms of sloughs bare.

Fortunately, these tropical species simply can’t survive the cold.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) - Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) - Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

As I walked along Anhinga Trail, the water was crystal clear revealing the bottom scattered with the corpses of cichlids, walking catfish, and other invasive fish.  Yes, there were a few bodies of the native fish but nowhere near the numbers.  American Alligators and Double-crested Cormorants feasted on the carcasses while waiting Black Vultures quickly scooped any corpses that floated near shore up.  Schools of Tilapia still swim the canal, but the Walking Catfish numbers were way down and Largemouth Bass, a native and popular sports fish, seemed unaffected.  Things are looking good though time will tell if enough of the invasives survived to reestablish their populations.

Researchers spent a significant time this past week preparing to hunt the giant Burmese Pythons that have arrived in the region in the last decade.  Trackers have been placed in at least 10 snakes to see how they deal with the cold.  This is the first major freeze since their arrival and if the population is hit hard then the problem may be controllable.  If not, then controlling this quickly expanding invasive species could be extremely difficult.  We’ll just have to wait and see how the populations respond.

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Comments

  1. Wonderful shots, of course. Around here one of the biggest invasive problems is nutria. Plant-wise, we have silk trees & Chinese tallow. Although both are lovely, they’re so prolific (particularly the tallow,) that they’re crowding out the native species.

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